Suddenly, Open Access is all the rage.

In December the National Institute of Health made public access to research articles that grow out of NIH funded research mandatory; research are now required to place their final version of articles accepted for publication after April 7 into the PubMed Central database at NIH within one year of publication.

This was a victory for many library and higher ed. advocates of public access, but there is a certain element of “be careful what you wish for” here. Many campus are now scrambling to figure out the legal, practical and financial implications of complying with this mandate. Three issues must be addressed in a relatively short time frame.

1. How will authors manage their copyrights to comply with the mandate? It has long been important for authors to think about and negotiate for an appropriate copyright arrangement with publishers. Insofar as this mandate forces them to do what they ought to have been doing for years, its impact is salutary. But it will still come as a shock to many researchers and will increase the need for sound copyright guidance and policies on campuses.

2. How will campuses deal with the mechanics of deposit? Since lack of compliance could imperil future research funds, this is an issue which should not be left entirely to individual authors. Institutional repositories, where they exist, are in a good position to help with the mechanics of deposit, and library staffs will also need to be aware of the process and ready to assist. Although the process is not hard, and is easier to accomplish if the author is involved, it is clear that institutional guidance and assistance is called for.

3. Likewise, researchers will need assistance locating and tracking the PubMed reference numbers of their articles that are deposited with NIH. Starting with the May round of grant funding, NIH will require that these numbers be included as part of the investigators previous work with NIH when applying for renewals or new funding. Again, libraries are in the best position to help researchers locate and retrieve this information.

Hard on the heels of this public access mandate came news of the vote this week by the Harvard faculty to require deposit of all articles written by the Arts and Sciences faculty in Harvard’s own institutional repository. The faculty agreed unanimously to automatically grant to Harvard a non-exclusive license to their work to put those articles in the repository; authors retain copyright and are free to publisher their work anywhere they lack as long as the publisher will accept that copyright is subject to this prior license. The decision is a strong affirmation of the value of open access to academic research, both to the public and to the academy itself.

Lots of commentary on these two decisions is available. This comment by William Patry addresses both, and there is an excellent roundup of information and comment on the Harvard decision here on Open Access News and on Mike Carroll’s blog here. I have written about the NIH mandate here.

Have we arrived at a “tipping point” for open access? At the very least, these developments are a great opportunity to begin or deepen a campus conversation about open access – what it is, all the different whys it can be accomplished and, most importantly, why it is so important, both in our own best interests in higher education and in the public interest.